Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thoughts on Homeschooling

First of all, there are two books that I would highly recommend to everyone thinking about homeschooling. Actually, I might recommend them even more if you're not thinking about homeschooling.  The first is probably what helped to push me over the edge this summer when I was deciding whether to actually put my kids in public school, or not. It's called Dumbing Us Down. It is written by a public school teacher of 30 years, not by some homeschooling hippie--if that helps to convince anyone. :) And the second, is called Thomas Jefferson Education. I think I've mentioned it on here before, but it is the model of education we have adopted and are trying to live and implement into our days.

I often struggle with talking about homeschool. We have found something that we absolutely love and feel totally passionate about. But I hesitate to bring it up or discuss it with people because first of all, I know they probably think I'm whack-o! But more than that, I am primarily concerned with offending people. I realize this isn't the popular choice. But I certainly don't think I'm better or doing it right where others are doing it wrong. I don't judge others or think that they're bad parents for putting their kids in public school. NOT AT ALL! So please understand this is just something we feel is a great fit for us, and something we really believe in. But I'm certainly not trying to say that everyone should do it.

I feel like if you are going to give home schooling a try anywhere, Alaska is the best place to do it. A weird analogy that I came up with is if you lived on a great big, organic farm with all the fresh fruits and vegetables you could want, and yet you fed your children Ramen soup for every meal instead. That's sort of how I think of it, in comparing the resources and opportunities afforded to homeschoolers here, versus sending them to the nearest public school. There are a couple different "public school systems" that homeschoolers can register with and can be a part of where the state gives you an allotment for each of your school-age children. It can cover curriculum, music lessons, sports...basically any extra curricular activities. You just have to have a contact teacher who you report to and give quarterly work samples, they take tests, we as parents "give grades", etc. So they keep you accountable and have to make sure your kids aren't "falling behind", but we are provided with a lot of freedom to enroll the kids in whatever they're interested in at the time, at no cost to us. It's pretty fabulous. I've already mentioned it before on here how great the homeschooling community is here in Alaska, but I have especially found that to be true out here in Wasilla. We love it here! It is rich with opportunity and support.

This is our third year of homeschooling (more if you count preschool) and I have to say it's the best one yet. Even though I was nervous about having a new baby, it's still working out okay. My stress level is not nearly as high as you'd think. And I know that I can attribute that to how we run things now, compared to before.
Every once in a while, I sometimes start to have anxiety about if we're "doing enough" each day. It's hard to explain but the lack of stress about homeschooling, will sometimes initiate a sudden panic in my mind. Until I talk myself down and remind myself of what I believe and know. It's usually just if I start comparing my life with other people's. That's never a good thing! :) When I look at my children and see how happy and smart they are, that they are thriving, I can relax and realize that what we're doing is working.

My approach and attitude about it is a lot less pushy and nagging than it used to be. I would just have this checklist of each subject and everything we were supposed to do in each subject and all the boxes needed to be checked each day or else we were falling behind!!! Basically I was using the public school system (conveyer belt model) at home and we didn't like it. That's not to say that I threw all our workbooks out the window. We still do some of the curriculum. Even little Madison will just spontaneously sit down at the desk and pull out her Kumon workbooks and practice writing letters and numbers. Or she will just write real things on paper, not in workbook format. We do a lot of reading (thank goodness Sonlight is a literature-based curriculum and so we have lots of great books to choose from!). But there's also a lot of playing. I try to incorporate learning into our playing as often as possible. I will get ideas from books or the internet, or just think of them on my own. It's different all the time, but we keep it fun. I mostly don't want to kill their natural love of learning.

I've also changed my views on housework and how that is just as much part of a "curriculum" as anything at this age. All my kids are still young, and consistency with good habits is crucial at this age. I am trying to teach them to be responsible, hard-working kids. So, cleaning their bathroom and picking up their clothes is just as important as learning to read, in my humble opinion. Before I was so stressed about ME having to do EVERYTHING. I just wanted to hire a maid because I was too busy for cleaning. How could I possibly do all the cleaning and cooking and laundry when I was trying to school my children?? But now I understand that it is just as important, and it is worth it to include them in all the chores that need to be done. But do not be fooled into thinking that we have a perfectly clean house at all times. That is very far from the truth. In fact it's perpetually messy because we are always here, living in it! But we are working at keeping up with it every day, and the kids are learning how to do it all which I think is awesome.

Being home every day gives us the TIME to work on issues that come up. I can take the time to teach and discipline, because we're not constantly gone or running off to do something else. I can take the time to have them help me cook and clean, because that is what we're here to learn and do. They learn so much through working and playing alongside me. The most important thing we are focusing on, especially during these early years (0-8) is building their character and moral foundation. They are being taught the basic principles of the gospel, and learning who they are. They are learning right/wrong, good/bad. Of course, if they pick up reading and times tables and all that in the mean time, then great.

Above anything else we make sure we have morning prayers and scripture reading. Before we only did family prayer at night. But after conference this past October, when Elder Callister gave this awesome talk, I knew it was time to make some changes. The whole talk is worth reading and studying repeatedly, but this paragraph is what helped me be motivated to really, seriously do it...
"No doubt most of our youth have their evening prayers, but perhaps many of them struggle with the habit of personal morning prayer. As parents, as their prime gospel teachers, we can correct this. Which parent in Book of Mormon times would have let their sons march out to the front of battle without a breastplate and shield and sword to protect them against the potentially mortal blows of the enemy? But how many of us let our children march out the front door each morning to the most dangerous of all battlefields, to face Satan and his myriad of temptations, without their spiritual breastplate and shield and sword that come from the protective power of prayer? The Lord said, “Pray always, … that you may conquer Satan” (D&C 10:5). As parents, we can help instill within our children the habit and power of morning prayer."

We also read out of the illustrated scripture story books. We just finished the Book of Mormon one and are now started into the Old Testament. We still read scriptures as a family (only difference being with Dad) at night, reading from the real scriptures. But these are very kid-friendly and the pictures keep every single one of them interested. It's nice and simple so a lot easier for them to understand and hear the stories. Sometimes reading the real thing can be over their heads, but obviously it's still important. I feel like even if we were to not do anything else that day, I still feel like we got the most important things covered.

I think the thing I appreciate the most about the TJed (Thomas Jefferson Education) model, is that it's opened my eyes to the real purpose of education. We've been brainwashed into this "dead-end" way of looking at things. We go to school so we can get good grades. If you get good grades then you can get a good job. If you get a good job, you can make more money....and that's it. But an education is about developing the whole person! Gaining knowledge refines our character and makes us better people. It helps us to develop our talents so we can fulfill our mission and purpose on this earth. It should enable us to bless other people's lives. That's a whole lot better than just the materialistic mindset of our ultimate goal being to make money.

There are so many things that I love about this way of life. I love that my kids are free to be creative and work on what interests them at that time. I'm continually surprised by their creativity! As long as I keep the electronics off and the resources available, they do a lot of cool things!

I love that we don't have to get everyone up and out the door really early in the morning. If they are a extra tired, they're welcome to sleep in. So nice on these cold winter mornings!

I love that we're not restricted by our vacation days or sick days (or our family coming to see us) because of the school's calendar.

I love that we can take advantage of days when the weather is nice, or the sun is out, which sometimes feels like a rare treat here!

I love that I don't have to pack lunches every day, or rush them through breakfast. I think we're able to eat healthier because of it. Not that everyone is like that, but I would probably lean towards things that are fast and convenient, not necessarily good for us.

I also really love that it keeps ME learning. Not just secular learning either, though I do learn a lot! But being with my kids and teaching them to do what's right, inevitably helps me to try and do what's right too. I want to set a good example for them, so it forces me to think about what I'm doing and saying. All day. Every day. (Sometimes I wish I didn't have so many little eyes and ears around! haha) But in all seriousness, they help me to be a better person. They teach me so much more than I could ever teach them and I'm so so grateful that I have the ability and blessing of not only staying home with them, but also homeschooling them. I recognize that it isn't an option for everyone and so I feel very blessed. Another great quote from the same talk I referenced earlier, "Parents, The Prime Gospel Teachers of Their Children" says, "We might all ask ourselves: do our children receive our best spiritual, intellectual, and creative efforts, or do they receive our leftover time and talents..."

These years are going by so fast, and we only get one shot at this whole parenting thing. I earnestly seek the power of heaven to help me every day.  I am much more mindful of my children individually and of trying to recognize their personal talents and gifts to develop that. I pray for them and seek guidance from Heavenly Father as to what we need to talk about or do each day. What do they need from me, personally. What are they struggling with and how can we continue to challenge them in a safe and loving environment? Basically it encourages me to be a more intentional mother, which is always a good thing.

If I stop and think about the great responsibility that I have as a mother, being accountable for what they are taught, which influences greatly what they become, sometimes the weight of that burden feels too much to bear. But I remember that the Lord will consecrate my efforts, and can make up the difference. (The very big difference.) They are His children first. Of course He is willing and anxious to help. He cares about the details of our lives, and that knowledge continually buoys me up. We certainly haven't got it all figured out, but we will keep trying every day.

It's All About Perspective

Yesterday we were trying to come up with topics for the presentations the kids have to give at CC (Classical Conversations). I had come up with several things and they were rejecting them all. Then I said, "Madi, why don't you talk about what you want to be when you grow up?" Finally she agreed to it! So I asked her, "Well what do you want to be when you grow up?"
"A mom."
"Okay, why do you want to be a mom?
"Because moms get to have treats WHENEVER THEY WANT. And they get to have kids and rule them and make them do WHATEVER THEY WANT. And they can say how much dessert you get. (I was rolling with laughter at this point so she just kept going...) and you get to get a babysitter and go WHEREVER YOU WANT". And you get to stay up and late and go to bed WHENEVER YOU WANT".... etc. etc.

When I relayed this conversation to Kenny that evening he laughs and says, "Wow hun! Seems like you've got a pretty great gig here!"

I guess it's all about perspective. :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Extra October Pictures

October got cold, fast. We spent a lot more time indoors.

It's so fun to see her progress so much in reading. I may have talked about this already, but it was such a good lesson for me. For months I pushed and pushed her to read and made her sit with me every day to do work on reading. It was torture for both of us! Finally I decided to back off and not worry about it so much. I realized she would learn to read eventually, even if it wasn't on my timeline. And ya know what? It worked. All of the sudden after a few months something just clicked and she all of the sudden had a desire to read and she just has progressed so quickly.  I hope to remember that for all my kids, in all areas of education. That's one of the reasons I homeschool is so they can learn at a pace that is good for them, not determined by 30 other kids their age, or what "experts" say is "normal". And yet I wasn't living that. I've learned my lesson.

 General Conference weekend playing soccer with uncle Andy and cousins.
Teaching them how to do shadow puppets. It didn't last very long, they wanted to just play with flashlights. But it was fun.

Practicing writing letters (and just playing) in baking soda. I didn't mind at all if it spilled on the carpet--it's super easy to vacuum up.

 One morning while I was organizing our coat closet, these silly kids were playing "salon". They put up a chair here and were trying to sit in it and lean back in the sink to wash hair (just like you do when you get your hair cut for real, not from your mom...). But there was a height difference so they just stuck their heads in the sink. They made pretend bottles of hair products and gave each other back massages, etc. Tyler even made a business card (of course) that you can see there on the counter. I get such a kick out of listening to them come up with crazy things like this. I love when they play nicely together and are creative.

 Oh my goodness this boy is so sweet. His smile and laugh are just the cutest thing ever.

Always has his nose stuck in a book. This year he has become much more independent about his learning and it's great to see him take charge of his education.

They just like dreaming big. They thought they were building something great and wonderful, but I'm pretty sure it never got past these two boards :). 

She really likes polka dots...and pink.

Tyler made some sort of goop with cornstarch and water. The girls were playing with food coloring and water. Mixing/pouring, etc. Whatever keeps them busy right?

 It's no secret that we love when daddy comes home. :)

Here's our goldfish from the ward party. He's still alive and going strong, which is sort of surprising to me. I wonder how long he'll live...

Extra September Pictures

September was a beautiful fall month. We loved being outside in the cool, but not too cold yet, weather. The leaves all changed and fell off the trees. I wish it lasted longer.

This poor picture is to represent a tradition that I love. Every weekend (either Saturday or Sunday) Kenny makes banana, chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. The kids love his the most because he always does extra choc. chips. They call them "pan cookies".

Tyler's church class talked about talents one week. He had an assignment from his teacher to come home and write down what his talents are. I found it on the desk and thought it was just too funny.

 perfect evenings on the trampoline

Till next year, September.

Halloween 2014

 This was the night we carved pumpkins. Actually, we only just started to carve the pumpkins. Unfortunately we only got to 2 of them because of time, and then never got around to finishing them. And the other two were carved, but we neglected to get lights to put in the bottom. So they just sat on the porch and froze. Definitely dropped the ball on that tradition this year, but we still had fun. :)

For costumes this year we decided to keep it simple and cheap. At first we wanted to do a "family theme" and thought the Wizard of Oz would be cute. But as I was trying to figure out how to do all the costumes it was going to be a lot of work and more money. So we bagged the whole idea and just picked individual costumes.
 Tyler was Johnny Appleseed! 

Brynlee was a monarch butterfly! We made those wings out of felt, and the antennae out of pipe cleaner and those fuzzy balls. In the picture it's missing a big white circle, but I noticed it after and glued it back on before the party.

Madison is little red riding hood. We also made her costume out of felt. It's a lot cheaper!! :) The girls had so much fun helping and hovered over the sewing machine. I need to pull that thing out more.

The cutest kitty for miss Kelsey. We did her tail and ears out of leftover felt. (Then hot-glued the ears to a headband). Super easy and she loved it!

Our ward had a fun Halloween party the week before (on the 24th). They had fun at all the booths getting candy (and Madison won a goldfish too!), and ended the night with a hay ride as a light snow fell. It was very cold outside.
The 31st, or actual Halloween day we didn't do the whole costume and trick-or-treat thing. Everyone had been sick during the week and we were all still feeling lousy, plus it was 20 degrees. So we got some donuts and apple cider and watched a movie together. None of them complained or cared that we were home. I was so grateful. The kids had fun handing out candy at the door though! I also had plans to do dinner in a pumpkin. But the store was completely out of cooking pumpkins so we got a Papa Murphey's pizza instead. It was nice and low-key, which is good because I don't care much for this holiday anyway. :)